IF YOU GO
What: Louie Anderson live (two shows)
Where: The Sellersville Theater, 24 W. Temple Ave., Sellersville
When: Saturday, March 17, at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Info.: For ticket and more, check www.st94.com.
Some say, if you want to understand your parents, you have to walk a mile in their shoes.
Lately, actor Louie Anderson seems to be asking, “Why stop at their shoes?”
On the FX series “Baskets” — now on its third season — Anderson plays Christine Baskets, an over-the-hill mother of four sons. It’s a fictional character, but Anderson, who is also a longtime stand-up comedian, will freely admit that Christine is based on his own mother.
So, in a way, he’s not only walking in his mother’s shoes, he’s wearing her clothes and her hair; he’s mimicking her gait and her manner of speaking. “I don’t know if you believe in channeling people or not,” Anderson said over the phone recently, but “I morph into her” on set.
For some people, the thought of Louie Anderson wearing a wig and playing someone’s mother on TV might sound crude or outlandish — an unflattering parody in the vein of Martin Lawrence’s “Big Momma’s House” —but the actor brings surprising gravity to the performance. It’s such a soulful acting stroke that he was awarded an Emmy for it two years ago.
“I try to make Louie Anderson completely disappear from that part,” Anderson said of Christine Baskets, who is a strong-willed but wounded widower, a Ronald Reagan-loving homebody who has a big heart and strong opinions. She’s a well-defined and astoundingly recognizable character, someone who might remind you of your own mother, aunt, or grandmother.
“When you’re watching [‘Baskets’], you don’t really think of me per se,” Anderson said. “The character is alive and well in that show, I hope.”
What so many viewers are connecting with is Christine’s humanity, he explained. “It’s the lack of hiding who Christine is. She’s all in. She’s 100 percent Christine. She’s a bull in a china shop, but she’s really a bull in the humanity shop, you know? She knows she does harm as she moves through the scene, but she tries to make up for it in absurd ways.”
So much of Christine’s personality comes from Anderson’s mother, Ora Zella Anderson. Though she died in 1990, Ora Zella has been a presence in Anderson’s work from his first days in comedy. She’s been a subject in his act, a character on his beloved mid-90s animated series “Life with Louie,” and a figure in his books “Dear Dad” and “Goodbye Jumbo.”
Four decades into Anderson’s career, you’d think there’d be nothing left for the comic to say or learn from Ora Zella. But Anderson said playing Christine has caused him to rediscover his mother — so much so that he’s now written an entire book about her. “Hey Mom: Stories For My Mother, But You Can Read Them Too” will be released on April 3.
“I think it’s really hard to define yourself [through your parents]. So the great thing is that I have the reverse osmosis of that” on “Baskets,” Anderson explained. By putting on a wig and getting inside her head, the comedian began to see new shades and textures to his mother.
“I don’t think people realize how hard life is for a lot of women, and I don’t mean this in a belittling way,” said the actor, whose father was an alcoholic with tendencies toward violence.
“So many women have had to define themselves within their families,” he added. “Because really what they end up doing is taking care of their husbands, taking care of the kids, taking care of the house — and then what is left for them?
“I think that is what Christine is trying to portray: ‘What is left for me?’”
On stage, the comedian, who will be performing two shows at the Sellersville Theater this month, said he’s been seeing changes in the audience, thanks in part to his recent work. Millennials who grew up watching his cartoon series, “Life with Louie,” and who are now rediscovering him through “Baskets,” are coming out to see him live.
“I think people connect with the things I’m saying comedy-wise because I’m talking about my family, and, in all families, people have troubles,” Anderson said. “People don’t get along. People wish they wouldn’t have said the things they said. People wish they would have done better for their parents. People wish they would have talked to their parents more.”
Anderson confronts these complex truths onstage, as he always has, and still manages to “get some laughs out of it. Because my number one thing is to make people laugh. All the other stuff, all the wanting people to get along and all the reminiscing, that’s there, but my number one thing is, can I make you forget your troubles for an hour and a half? That’s really my goal.”